What are the actions of transformational leaders? 

Transformational leadership moves others to action to accomplish something that was thought to be unlikely or impossible. What are the actions leaders take that move others to action?

Leadership is often talked about as a set of qualities, competencies, skills, or traits that are either innate or developed. I’d like to offer another perspective on leadership that our clients have found to be powerful in producing extraordinary results in business.

What are the actions of a leader? What distinguishes a leader from everyone else?

First, two quick stories:

Quick Story #1: When she was very young, my sister went to my dad’s office for Take Your Daughter to Work Day. The next morning, the teacher asked each kid what their parents did. One kid said her mom was a lawyer; another said her dad was a doctor. When it was my sister’s turn, she said, “My daddy talks on the phone.” At the time, he was the CEO of a manufacturing company, but “talking on the phone” was what she had seen him doing all day.

Quick Story #2: Years ago, a CEO of a small-cap public company I knew said to me over lunch, “The higher I moved up the organization, the less work I did. Now all I do is meet with people: my people, customers, the board.”

Leaders Take Actions Distinct From Others

If someone observed you at work, what would they observe you doing? Very few of us work with our hands. Most of the time, we:

  • Read and write email
  • Talk on the phone, listen to conference calls, and watch or lead a Webex
  • Meet in person
  • Look at dashboards and reports
  • Ask for and give advice and direction
  • Give presentations and share reports

What do all these have in common? Conversation, of course—speaking and listening. Occasionally, you might configure equipment or physically move something, but if you are a manager or executive, it’s likely most of your work is speaking and listening, whether audibly, in writing, via body language, or in spreadsheets and graphs.

And as that small-cap CEO said, as you move higher up in the organization, you tend to do more and more speaking and listening until it’s 100% of your time.

If that’s the case, what distinguishes leaders from everyone else?

There are Distinct Conversations that Great Leaders Master

Leaders speak and listen in a particular way distinct from everyone else. That’s how they become leaders and that’s how they lead others to accomplish great things.

In our work with clients, we treat conversations (speaking and listening) as rigorously as a mathematician treats formulas and numbers. In our experience, we have found the following:

There are conversations that impede performance and conversations that cause high performance.

Leaders speak and listen the conversations that cause high performance. And there are distinct conversations that great leaders master.

In a future post, I’ll talk about the conversations that great leaders master.

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